A Don’t Touch Supply Chain Strategy Must Now Dominate The Future!

Don't Touch Supply Chain

The overarching strategy for limiting exposure to, and spreading of, the Coronavirus is that of Social Distancing. We are all instructed to keep 6 feet apart from anyone, wear masks, and avoid any social gatherings and don’t touch. How does this relate to a Don’t Touch Supply Chain strategy?

Even with social distancing, the global lockdowns, temporary closures of many businesses and disruptions of economies everywhere there are still Supply Chains in action, as disrupted as they may be.

Truckers are still moving goods to points of consumption and essential services such as grocery stores are still in operation, providing the basic goods we all need to live. Everyone involved in these Supply Chains is abiding by the social distancing and protective mandates we all are adhering to.

How can Supply Chains be changed in the future to make them more robust and resilient and less disrupted by any future catastrophes, and god forbid, a future pandemic?

One approach is to develop and deploy Don’t Touch Supply Chain strategies!

What is a Don’t Touch Supply Chain Strategy?

As we articulated in our article A Don’t Touch Strategy Will Dramatically Lean Out Your Supply Chain! we discuss the fact that any movement, handling or touching of goods must be analyzed. According to the Lean philosophy any activity that does not transform goods and add value that an end consumer will pay for should be considered waste.

If you can eliminate handling and movement of goods anywhere in your Supply Chain you will realize many incredible benefits. You reduce cost, you eliminate opportunities for error, you reduce time, you reduce inventories, and you strengthen your Supply Chain’s ability to operate in the face of any disastrous situation.

The Don’t Touch philosophy is not restricted to physical goods and materials. The ability to not touch data in any fashion is equally important. So much time is spent in data entry, spreadsheet creation and manipulation, chart creation, purchase order changes, labelling, reporting and more that is wasteful. People are working with data as opposed to working with information.

The degree to which you can transcend spending your time on data and move to spending your time on information increases both the value you can extract from your Supply Chain and the contribution that your people can make. It moves people up the value chain so they can focus on making decisions and not just entering data.

How a Don’t Touch Supply Chain Supports Pandemic-Like Containment Actions

The historic actions taken to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic are unprecedented. Social distancing, working from home, shutting down all manner of businesses, schools and activities are all astonishing but necessary actions taken to contain and restrict the spread of this disease.

The reality is Supply Chains must also run to ensure our very survival. The reality is also that we must respect all actions needed to contain any pandemic or disaster to ensure our very survival.

How can we support both of these needs? Once we get past this pandemic there will be many lessons learned and people will be looking for how to strengthen Supply Chains to withstand any future such events. The degree to which we can implement more Don’t Touch Supply Chain strategies fully supports the measures necessary in a Pandemic like crisis while at the same time allowing more of our lives to operate like normal.

If we don’t have to touch or handle goods as much as they move through any stage of the Supply Chain then we will have fewer issues complying with social distancing type measures while at the same time allowing the Supply Chains to continue to operate uninterrupted.

If we don’t have to handle data as much and are focused more on information management then we will have fewer people disrupted from their daily jobs and able to continue to running our Supply Chains uninterrupted.

A Don’t Touch strategy supports both the objectives of keeping our Supply Chains running during a disaster while at the same time allowing us to be compliant with any pandemic-like mitigation actions.

So what are some of the elements of a Don’t Touch Supply Chain strategy?

Elements of a Don’t Touch Supply Chain Strategy

Ecommerce is a great example of a Don’t Touch strategy, at least from a consumer standpoint. You can stay at home and order virtually anything online and have it delivered to you at your convenience. You can track the movement of your goods online. You don’t need to interact with anyone to get your goods.

Still people do often need to go to a physical store. Amazon’s cashier-less stores are a great example of a Don’t Touch strategy in action. There are no cashiers. You download their app, take the goods off the shelf as you need and as you leave the store your purchases are automatically billed to you. Stock-keepers in the store don’t need to be present when consumers are there. Social distancing is fully supported in this model.

Behind the scenes at the Ecommerce Distribution Centres there is more that they can do as well to make their operations Don’t Touch enabled. The use of conveyors to move goods, changing package sizes to match fulfillment and replenishment quantities, automated labelling and scanning, driverless forklift trucks, electronic inventory management, and automated movement of goods are all examples of ways to reduce humans touching goods.

Drop shipping is another great example. If you go to a Costco store for instance you will find that most of their products are placed on the store floor on shipping pallets. Costco employees only had to remove the outer carton on those types of goods without handling individual items or boxes.

Any Distribution Centre should look for opportunities to have goods drop shipped directly between the supplier and the point of consumption and eliminate any duplicate handling and movement.

In Manufacturing, Industry 4.0 is the banner for the deployment of digital technologies that embody a Don’t Touch strategy. Advanced robotics, smart sensors, automated movement, electronic connectivity at every step, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things will enable the continuation of manufacturing regardless of whatever circumstances are going on in the world.

Logistics management Don’t Touch strategies start off with electronic connectivity across the end to end Supply Chain, powered by smart sensors, IoT tracking, GPS, Blockchain, and Transportation Management System (TMS) real time visibility. We can tell where goods are with these technologies without requiring manual scanning, tracking and reporting on the location of goods.

Freight management has further prospects with autonomous vehicles, including tractor trailers, and drones. While you still need people to load and unload trailers the number of people exposed to and touching logistics can be reduced.

Advanced software systems can also support more automated planning, scheduling, procurement activities, fulfillment and replenishment, and Supply Chain tracking. With Control Tower technology fewer people are required to oversee all activities and activities within any Supply Chain.

Imagine automated oversight of Strategic National Stockpiles with respect to market demand, inventory aging, and replenishment lead times. As opposed to waiting for people to manage these critical inventories an automated solution could ensure better positioning and preparedness to support future catastrophic needs.

These technologies also enable office, administrative or management employees to work from home yet still be connected in real time, able to fully perform their jobs.

Strategic work on increasing redundancy in the Supply Chain (eg. dual sources, substitute parts and materials, alternative bills of material) can also lay the groundwork for integrated systems to make automated decisions on sourcing in the future. With real time end to end electronic connectivity artificial intelligence systems can react to any changes in supply continuity and leverage the redundant sources and suppliers previously enabled.


All of these technologies, processes and systems are elements of a Digital Supply Chain. Enabled by real time end to end electronic connectivity at all levels a Digital Supply Chain can support a Don’t Touch paradigm.

A Don’t Touch approach to Supply Chain design provides the benefits of lowering costs, reducing lead time, and increasing responsiveness. At the same time a Don’t Touch approach increases the robustness and resilience of a Supply Chain in the face of any disaster, a pandemic included.

Social distancing measures can be more easily executed while at the same time increasing the ability of Supply Chains to continue to function.

What other opportunities do you see to improve Supply Chain design to make them more sufficient and more able to withstand the impacts of a future pandemic?

Originally published on April 21, 2020.